“The War for History” part eleven–what did I mean in Part Ten in referring to Ranneberger “trying to quash” poll results showing Odinga taking the lead in the presidential race in September 2007?

In response to a reader inquiry, I want to make a clarification of an incident in September 2007 I referred to as background in Part Ten of this War for History series and addressed in more detail in an e-mail that I quoted at length in Part Three. The issue for me was that the Ambassador was expressing an active rather than merely passive favoritism in the Kenyan presidential race for the first time and trying to get me involved in it.

Here is what The New York Times reported in their January 30, 2009 investigative report:

. . . .

Mr. Flottman said he was surprised when, before the election, Mr. Ranneberger made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing Kenyan corruption.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Flottman recalled, the ambassador was even more direct. A few months before the election, Mr. Ranneberger proposed releasing a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga, according to Mr. Flottman, who said he witnessed the episode during a meeting at the ambassador’s office. The suggestion was dropped, he said, after the embassy learned that the pro-Odinga results were already out.

In a meeting in the Ambassador’s office after I was called in to discuss the International Republican Institute’s September 2007 public opinion survey results, which were not yet released, the Ambassador expressed pleasure that our question on preference in the presidential race (which we had an established procedure of not releasing) continued to show a lead for Kibaki as we had in the last survey in March, whereas results from other firms published in the Nairobi papers were showing Odinga as having taken a lead after securing the ODM party nomination. He pressed me to depart from our practice and release our presidential numbers and instructed a member of his staff in attendance to get another firm to not to release their forthcoming presidential numbers. During the meeting the staff member got a message that the other firm had already published their report showing Odinga leading.

So as far as the other polling firm (Steadman, now Synovate) it was “a dog that didn’t bark”; the Ambassador was too late to try to quash their release, no call was made, and I had no reason to think that anyone at the Steadman firm ever knew about the incident and the Ambassador’s instruction to his assistant.

Here is what I quoted in Part Three of this series from a January 2008 e-mail:

In Sept. we did our last general public opinion survey in a series dating back to 2005 (and really a continuation of polling that we had done with Strategic with AID funding since 1999 or earlier).  We had always made a limited public release of general data, privately shown the parties and candidates their own standing and released “horserace” numbers to no one.  By this time all the other polls were being published showing Railia having overtaken Kibaki and building a lead.  Our poll had basically the same results for Kibaki that our March poll had had and showed him ahead.

When the Ambassador got this from AID I was called in and he was all excited about how we had to release our figures and stop Steadman from making a contradictory release the same day.  While we were meeting, [redacted] got an e-mail that Steadman had come out.  [Redacted] agreed with me that changing our policy on this last poll before the election would be transparently and blatantly seen as political, and she told me [redacted] agreed and would work it.  I laid low and never heard back. . .

Telling thing Ambassador said was to the effect that our poll would vindicate what he had been telling Washington, and that if he had misread presidential race “we might as well not even be here”.

And my narrative from Part Ten:

Part of what has troubled me is my conversation with the USAID CTO on the phone from a polling place on the afternoon of the vote on December 27.  It had been agreed internally within IRI that we should not allow any report of our preliminary presidential numbers to leave IRI until after the polls closed at 5:00pm.  We knew that USAID wanted to get the preliminary results that afternoon, and Peter Oriare had estimated that they could be available at 3:00pm.  Within IRI we did not want to be responsible for any situation where the numbers leaked to either the Kibaki or Odinga campaigns before the poll closing, or got out in the media while people were still voting.  This was clearly “best practice”.

More specifically to our particular situation in Nairobi, we were very concerned since we had already been pressured by the Ambassador to depart from precedent to release the numbers he liked from our September poll while he sought to quash the Steadman numbers he didn’t like.  Further, when Ranneberger expressed to me in our meeting at his residence on December 15, 2007 that he wanted to take our lead delegate Connie Newman to meet privately with Kibaki aide Stanley Murage the day before the election major alarm bells had gone off in the IRI front office and it was stressed that such an improper meeting “must not happen”.  We did not know what the Ambassador was up to but knew we needed not to be involved in it.  In this context the desire not to let exit poll numbers get out while voting was still open very much included having them go to the Ambassador in particular.  We had no contractual obligation at all to get USAID an early disclosure on election day.

So observing at a polling place where we were going to close the voting day late that afternoon I got a call from the CTO looking for the preliminary numbers and I put her off.  I had numbers by text message from Peter Oriare but had not been able to study them in detail and go through them carefully with Peter and I tried to put her off.  She got frustrated and said that she would never have had us do the election observation if she thought we could not handle getting her the preliminary exit poll numbers at the same time we were observing and that “the whole reason” they did the exit poll was for “early intelligence of the Ambassador”.  I’m not against intelligence in concept, and I was working for IRI on leave from my job with a defense contractor that does intelligence work, but my purpose and job in Kenya was to support democracy and I did not appreciate being told at that late hour that there was an underlying unexpressed ulterior motive to the polling agreement all along–and such a thing was explicitly contrary to formal IRI policy as well as our USAID agreement. Why was it so important that the Ambassador have the numbers right then–“early”–instead of an hour and a half or so later when the polls closed?  No explanation of that was given.  The USAID officer ended up calling Peter Oriare, our subcontractor, and extracted the numbers directly from him.  Who did the Ambassador share them with and when?  I have no way to know.

I also want to stress that I had confidence in both Strategic Public Relations and Research which did our public opinion surveys and our exit polls for the 2002 and 2007 general elections and 2005 constitutional referendum, and in Steadman, which I hired in December 2007 to do a last minute pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency after the Ambassador had surprisingly suggested that “people were saying” that Raila Odinga might lose his parliamentary seat there to Stanley Livando and thus loses his eligibility to be elected president. The Ambassador’s expressed but unfulfilled desire to try to quash Steadman’s previous report caused me concern about the Ambassador, not about the polling firm.

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